Bell Gardens Candidates Among Those Accused of Voter Intimidation at the Polls

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Candidates and campaign volunteers maintained a tight footing—too close for comfort for some—keeping the legal distance from polls on Tuesday, prompting reports to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office that electioneering was going on in Bell Gardens and other southeast cities.

Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC) Dean Logan on Tuesday responded to reports of electioneering in Bell Gardens by sending a message on the social media site Twitter: “Engagement is good, but [interested parties] need to respect the 100 ft limit to prevent intimidation,” Logan tweeted.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Candidatos de Bell Gardens Entre los Acusados de Intimidar a los Votantes en las Urnashttp://egpnews.com/?p=32365

Numerous complaints were recorded by polling staff and election trouble-shooters regarding aggressive campaigning by candidates and people concerned about electioneering, said Efrain Escobedo, executive liaison for the LA County Registrar-Recorder told EGP on Wednesday.

Escobedo said he did not have the specifics regarding which candidates or campaigns were accused of making voters feel uncomfortable.

The 100-foot mark from polls is marked as part of the polling place set up, but the Registrar-Recorder’s staff doesn’t have an enforcement role, instead, they remind candidates and election volunteers what is and is not allowed, make sure the 100-foot mark is visible and ensure that voter’s path to the polls are not obstructed, he said.

The reports will be reviewed and if any seem serious enough, they will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office within a week or two, Escobedo said.

“Elections is the people’s process, you want a vibrant democratic process,” Escobedo said adding that the Registrar-Recorder is concerned by reports that show voters are bothered by tactics they face at the polls.

The Election Semi-Official results showed Bell Gardens incumbents Jennifer Rodriguez (1,250 votes) and Pedro Aceituno (1,180 votes) were easily reelected as they received almost twice the number of votes as their challengers, Jannette Morales (635 votes) and Yvette Silva (625 votes), received.

These same preliminary results show about a third of Bell Gardens voters turned out for the election. Including vote-by mail ballots, 3,690 of the city’s 11,697 registered voters cast a ballot, according to Eileen Shea, media information officer for the LA County Registrar-Recorder.

Wednesday morning, BASTA, a reform group that was founded in response to the corruption scandal in Bell in 2010, denounced “all candidates and their campaign volunteers” who intimidated voters, engaged in “illegal behavior” and behaved in a matter that “corrodes the democratic process” during the countywide elections that took place in more than 20 cities on Tuesday.

BASTA spokesperson and former Bell Gardens city council candidate in 2009, Cristina Garcia, asked how many voters decided not to vote after confronting an intimidating atmosphere at the poles.

“Tonight, I witnessed a man drive into a voting poll in Bell Gardens and before he could step out of his car, volunteers for all the candidates pounced on his car in a last ditch effort to win his vote. The voter was so frustrated he closed his car door and drove off before he could vote,” Garcia said. “The irony is that this behavior was legal because it was 101 feet away, but it is clear that 100 feet is just too close.”

BASTA said voters confronted the same problem in Hawaiian Gardens and Maywood, and charged that current laws don’t protect voters.

“It is clear that while the current process strives to ensure a voter’s right to a safe, independent and private vote, it fails because of a lack of an enforcement mechanism or clear repercussions for candidates and campaign volunteers in violation of the law,” BASTA’s press release states.

The group wants state and county officials to pass legislation that could prevent this from happening again.

Their demands include increasing the electioneering distance to 350 feet from the polls; improving voter education on how to protect their vote; where to turn to if there is a violation; creating a list of behaviors that are deemed illegal, along with a mechanism to supervise and deter illegal behavior; creating criminal and financial penalties for violators, and more aggressive investigations and prosecution by the District Attorney of cases connected to inappropriate behavior during an election.

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November 10, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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